Penelope Draper Buchanan, Art Educator and Director, Teacher Resource Center, CMA, 1923 - 2010


The security guards at the Cleveland Museum of Art may have thought she was crazy, leading adults in creative dance movements in front of the paintings and sculptures in the various galleries, but Penelope D. Buchanan never minded their quizzical stares. She was doing what she loved most: moving in response to great art.

“I love working with any age, but I adore teaching children, particularly young children,” says Buchanan, a teacher for more than five decades. “I find teaching the most satisfactory of activities as one discovers new ideas with a group.”

Buchanan studied Dalcroze Eurhythmics – an approach educators use to foster music appreciation, ear-training and improvisation while improving musical abilities in which the body is the main instrument – at the Dalcroze School of Music in New York, where she grew up. “I’m a real, honest-to-God New Yorker,” she proclaims, although she has spent most of her life in Cleveland.

Before enrolling in the Dalcroze School, Buchanan attended several other arts programs, including the Museum Art School in Boston, and the Art Student League and the Delehanty Institute in New York. During World War II, she complemented her studies by working in the engineering and advertising departments at an aircraft parts manufacturing plant. Buchanan also studied voice and sang in the alto section of a large chorus in New York.

Buchanan credits her love of the arts to her extremely talented family, starting with her mother, Dorothy Draper, a renowned interior designer; her aunt, Ruth Draper, an acclaimed monologist; her cousin, Paul Draper, who achieved fame as a tap dancer who performed only to classical music; and her physician father, George Draper, who played tunes on a defretted saw.

After the war, she earned her elementary certificate at the Dalcroze School, and then came to Cleveland in 1952 to join the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music. There, she taught Dalcroze Eurhythmics for children’s classes and conservatory classes for students working toward their degree in music, teaching every day except Sunday. “It was quite wild,” Buchanan recalls with affection of her early career.

Buchanan also directed CIM’s summer opera workshop for two years, prior to returning to New York in 1956 to obtain her full certificate at the Dalcroze School. A year later, she traveled to England, where she taught general music, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, and art at The Caldecott Community in Ashford-Kent, a school for maladjusted children of high intelligence under care of the county.

Returning to Cleveland in 1958, she took a teaching job at Hawken Lower School. During the next fifteen years, she taught third, fourth, and fifth grades, and became chair of the Lower School (grades 4, 5 and 6), before leaving Hawken in 1973.

At that point, Buchanan drew on her extensive and varied educational experience, as well as a strong effort to raise grants from local and national foundations to launch the Greater Cleveland Teacher Center. The innovative teacher support organization provided year-round opportunities for professional growth through workshops, seminars, a library and workroom, and a staff of advisors. She served as Director from 1973 to 1979.

When the organization ran out of funding, Buchanan was approached by Sherman Lee, then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. He invited her to develop a similar facility at the museum. From September of 1981 to September of 1992, she managed the Teacher Resource Center for the Education Department, developing with an advisory group of teachers workshops for teachers of all grade levels to prepare them for bringing students for tours of the museum. While the Education Department staff led most of the workshops, Buchanan also taught classes for all age groups. Her favorite one for adults was called “Dysfunctional Families in Greek Myth.”

In 1992, returning to her first love teaching, she assumed the role of consultant/instructor. She then wrote two books for children to prepare them for their museum visits, Looking Together: Introducing Young Children to the Cleveland Museum of Art (1994), and In the Spell of an Ibis (1996) to introduce them to CMA’s extensive Egyptian collection.

“Penny is a just a natural teacher,” attests Marjorie Williams, director of the Division of Education and Public Programs at CMA. “Her leadership, teaching and mentoring capabilities were extraordinary,” Williams adds that one of her favorite memories of her colleague was watching Buchanan, who stands 6-feet tall, towering over the children as she danced with them in the galleries.

After retiring in January of 2003, Buchanan began volunteering at Hopewell, a therapeutic farm community for adults recovering from mental illness in Mesopotamia, Ohio. She works with adults from age 18 to people well along in life, offering various arts activities.

“I’ve done many things with them: creative, movement, writing, creative dramatics, puppets, drawing, and weaving,” Buchanan says, adding after a pause, “I really don’t know much about weaving, but I’m doing it.”

In December of 2009, she and her husband, Harvey Buchanan, an art historian and retired professor from CWRU, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

“I’ve had a marvelous life,” Buchanan says. “And the excitement of teaching is the heart of it.”

— Christopher Johnston
Winter 2009

Cleveland Arts Prize
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